After two years of negotiations mired in deep division and characterized by back-and-forth public accusations, Logan Health administrators and unionized nurses found themselves in agreement last week when both sides expressed satisfaction with the union’s first contract.
SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, which is representing Logan Health’s bargaining unit of 650 unionized nurses, announced that nurses voted to ratify their first union contract on Sept. 15, praising the agreement for providing “a stronger voice in staffing decisions, wages and benefits that workers say will help recruit and retain staff during a nationwide nursing shortage.”
“By joining together, as nurses, as healthcare workers, and as a hospital, we can create the changes we need to provide quality patient care,” Joan Siderius, a registered nurse and member of the bargaining team, said. “We have the years of experience to make Logan Health great for our patients, and now we’re finally being heard. We’re stronger when we’re all united in one union — and we’re just getting started.”
Logan Health administrators also said they achieved top priorities with the contract.
“We held firm in this contract that wage increases and benefit enhancements for union nurses would not exceed those received by other Logan Health employees, and they did not,” Ryan Pitts, Logan Health’s chief nursing officer, said.
Logan Health nurses voted 372-199 to unionize in a July 2019 secret-ballot election, creating a bargaining unit of 650 nurses spread across the hospital system, although it excluded North Valley Hospital, now called Logan Health Whitefish.
“Concerns around safe staffing ratios and the need to raise standards for patients and caregivers as well as financial concerns amid the increased cost of living in Kalispell spurred these nurses to join together with their coworkers to unionize,” SEIU said in a Sept. 16 press release.
Earlier this year, administrators and bargaining nurses were deadlocked in disagreement over wages and staffing issues, a division that played out publicly through a three-day unfair labor practice strike on June 1-3. Each side accused the other of intimidation and misrepresenting negotiations, and SEIU filed a litany of complaints with the National Labor Relations Board alleging labor-law violations.
But last week’s ratification of the union contract at least temporarily lays to rest a number of those issues and displays of public animosity.
The contract provides wage increases and a boost to benefits, which SEIU said is critical for nurses who have been “struggling to afford to live and raise their families in Kalispell.” The union also said the contract addresses scheduling issues that have been leading to burnout and will lead to better patient care in the Flathead Valley.
The ratification of the contract, SEIU stated, also gives nurses a stronger voice to air concerns over issues such as staffing levels, as well as seniority recognition for job postings and restructurings; just cause discipline with a grievance procedure; and “standards and premiums that respect our time and work.”
Amy Clark, SEIU 1199NW’s communications director, said nurses will receive a 7% pay increase across the board, while the contract also establishes a new wage scale based on experience, with an annual review of experience that determines placement on the wage scale.
Another key component of the contract, Clark said, is the inclusion of resource nurses who are trained to float between departments and can assist when patient census is high, as well as cover for meals and breaks. Clark said the agreement further stipulates that nurses won’t be scheduled for less than nine hours of rest between shifts and allows nurses to decline shifts that don’t abide by the rest requirements.
“This contract means that I can afford to give my kids the life I always imagined for them,” Sarah Shanklin-Johnson, registered nurse in the ICU and member of the bargaining team, said. “I can afford to stay in our house, spend more time with my kids instead of working extra to make ends meet, and know that I have a voice in making my workplace safe. And I can stand taller knowing that I’m providing the quality of care our community needs.”
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